Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Nearshore‐structured habitats—including underwater grasses, mangroves, coral, and other biogenic reefs, marshes, and complex abiotic substrates—have long been postulated to function as important nurseries for juvenile fishes and invertebrates. Here, we review the evolution of the “nursery habitat hypothesis” and use >11,000 comparisons from 160 peer‐reviewed studies to test whether and which structured habitats increase juvenile density, growth, and survival. In general, almost all structured habitats significantly enhanced juvenile density—and in some cases growth and survival—relative to unstructured habitats. Underwater grasses and mangroves also promoted juvenile density and growth beyond what was observed in other structured habitats. These conclusions were robust to variation among studies, although there were significant differences with latitude and among some phyla. Our results confirm the basic nursery function of certain structured habitats, which lends further support to their conservation, restoration, and management at a time when our coastal environments are becoming increasingly impacted. They also reveal a dearth of evidence from many other systems (e.g., kelp forests) and for responses other than density. Although recent studies have advocated for increasingly complex approaches to evaluating nurseries, we recommend a renewed emphasis on more straightforward assessments of juvenile growth, survival, reproduction, and recruitment.
Aquatic nursery habitats
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Lefcheck, Jonathan S.; Hughes, Brent B.; Johnson, Andrew J.; Pfirrman, Bruce W.; Rasher, Douglas B.; Smyth, Ashley R.; Williams, Bethany L.; Beck, Michael W.; and Orth, R J., Are coastal habitats important nurseries? A meta-analysis (2019). Conservation Letters.